The virtual other woman

Joey Garcia

Last November, I received an e-mail at work from a woman I had worked with 15 years prior. We’ve been bantering back and forth, on work e-mail only. This would be unremarkable, but she is married, and I’m in a live-in relationship with a superb woman who treats me well and understands me more all the time.

Anyhow, the e-mail correspondence is engaging. We share common interests that are not that common: old rock ‘n’ roll, metaphysics (she sees a psychic regularly; I’m into astrology) and Southern storytelling (I grew up in Memphis; she’s a genuine Missourian). Among the more arresting things she’s done: recalling verbatim things we rapped about back in 1990, e-mailing a picture of herself she had meant to send back then and sending me e-mails at 1 a.m.

I observe “netiquette” and only respond when it is my volley, but I have a strange feeling of not knowing what the hell is taking place. I’ve got a good life, so why do I feel hung up by this?

You might be suffering from mid-life curiosity about the road not taken. If so, don’t let your mind shift into warp speed, imagining a future with this woman. Daydreams can be productive, but not in this situation. Here, they serve to fill in the blanks, according to your preferences, which have nothing to do with the reality of this woman.

Remember that the two of you are becoming reacquainted in a vacuum. It’s easy to idealize someone with whom you have a few strong connections. But since your life is sweet as is, savor it. You have a friend from the past who has re-entered your life, as a friend. Focus on the friendship, not the gender, and enjoy having someone new in your circle.

My job requires that I attend social events. My boyfriend of nine months likes being in the mix but barely says two words to anyone but me. It’s so embarrassing. He’ll be introduced to someone and after saying “nice to meet you,” he basically stares at them with a genuine deer-in-the-headlights look. He blames this on his parents’ theory that kids should be seen and not heard, but whenever I make reference to one of my own personality defects and trace it to my childhood he tells me I’m being a victim. Maybe I am. I’ve tried to break up with him more than once but keep going back. I don’t know why. What should I do?

Step out solo to work-related events. Your boyfriend may be an asset to your personal life, but he’s not an asset to your career. Here’s why: If he’s silent when you expect small talk, your resulting embarrassment (or frustration or anxiety) can easily be felt by others and thus create discomfort for you. Unless you’re vigilant, that discomfort will play into work interactions.

If you decide that you don’t care what your colleagues think, and you don’t mind facing your boyfriend’s panic over having to choose between obeying his parents and being an adult, then continue his role as your escort. You can ask if he is willing to try new behavior by practicing conversation. If he says yes, arrange situations for him to do this that are safe for your career, like gatherings with friends.

As for his tendency to label you a victim, it’s clearly a projection. But if you think you are a victim of socialization that says you must have a boyfriend or that if you hang in there the relationship will eventually be perfect, revise your thinking. The idea is to choose a partner, not a project.

Meditation of the week
The French writer Francois La Rochefoucauld said, “Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we think up to hide them.” How many lies do you hide behind to avoid telling the truth about yourself?

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